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When You Know How it Ends / The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 13:1-8

And as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”

If you’re a big sports fan then you know how frustrating it is when your favorite team is playing in a different time zone. You can’t watch the game on live TV because it either takes place during your workday, or way past your bedtime.

A pastor classmate of mine in Hawaii told me how he deals with this issue. Hawaii is six hours behind us. If it’s 10 p.m. in his home town of Detroit, the time is 5 p.m. in Hawaii. Because of this time difference, the Monday Night Football game is played in the mid-afternoon, according to Hawaii Time. The local TV stations delay their telecast until the evening. My friend in Hawaii says he’s too excited to wait for the television broadcast, so he listens to the game live on radio. Then that evening, he watches the time-delayed broadcast on TV. He says, If I know my team has won the game, it influences how I watch it on TV. If my team fumbles the ball or throws an interception, it’s not a big deal. I think, that’s bad, but everything’s under control. I know how it all ends; we win!

If you’re a big sports fan, his plan makes perfect sense. It’s a great feeling to know that no matter how bad the game may look in the moment, your team is going to turn it around and win. You can rise above the stress and tension of the moment if you know how the game ends.

Our lesson from Mark’s Gospel is part of the apocalyptic literature of the Bible. In very vivid terms it describes the last days of planet earth. Some people get a chill just thinking of the possibility of the end of the world or the Rapture or the Second Coming. Each time predictions are made there are people who sell their homes, cash in their life insurance policies, turn toward the heavens for signs. Of course, none of this is new.

Historians believe that the first apocalyptic cult in the U.S. was established in 1694, when a mystic and his followers settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There were 40 so-called “monks” in this cult because they believed the number 40 had a spiritual meaning. They believed that the End Times were coming soon. So, they lived in a small settlement in the wilderness where they studied astronomy and made art and music. At least this was a peaceful way to wait for the Second Coming of Jesus.

He predicted that the End Times would occur on the last day of 1694. Its interesting, however, his followers didn’t abandon him when his prediction didn’t come true. Instead, they lived in the woods and continued to study the stars. After his death, his followers disbanded and went on with their lives.

There’s nothing in the Bible, or in the history of Christian tradition, that supported his view. Nothing. Yet there are many passages in the Bible that tell us we should prepare for the end of time. So how should we do it? We don’t want to be guilty of clock-watching this morning, but we want to take seriously Christ’s words about the last days. There are three significant things Christ says to us about the end of time and Christ’s return.

First, He says we can’t know the future. That’s important for us to realize so that lest we won’t be led astray. We can’t know the future. Jesus’ disciples fully expected His return in their lifetime. They were wrong. No scriptural truth is more sure than this one: Only God knows the future.

A woman sitting in church with her family listening to the pastor preach on the end of time. She didn’t know her three-year-old son, was also paying attention to the sermon until the pastor asked the congregation, what preparation do we need for the final crisis? And the little boy whispered very loud, “Preparation H.” He sounds like a smart kid, but we need something more than Preparation H to face the uncertainty of an unknown future.

Anytime society faces a major change or crisis, a pandemic, rising unemployment, natural disasters, people search for some sense of control. We either look for someone to blame or someone to guide us. Just look at the myths, lies and conspiracy theories that circulate on social media. We gain a sense of control when we find someone to blame for our problems.

A little boy was asked what he would like for his birthday. He said, I’d like a little brother. Oh my, that’s such a big wish, the mother said. Why do you want a little brother? Well, there’s only so much I can blame on my dog. When we fear the future, we look for someone or something to blame.

Another way of dealing with an uncertain future is by looking for someone or something to guide us. To provide us with a sense of comfort or certainty. We turn to anyone who offers us answers, political leaders, religious leaders, influencers, celebrities, even psychics.

Jesus doesn’t promise us any answers about the future. In fact, He says to watch out for those people who claim to know the future because they’re deceiving us. We can’t know the future. Only God knows.

Secondly, since we can’t know the future, our task is to make the most of the present. Are you making the most of the days God has given you? Are you using your energy, time and talents to make this world a better place? Are you finding opportunities to do good deeds and share God’s love with others? In your community, are you doing the work of Jesus in preparation for the day when He does return?

We’re going to feel stupid for eternity if we waste this life. That’s a long time to feel stupid. We can’t control the future, but we can control how we use this present moment. You were created in the image of a loving and all-powerful God. Are your choices and actions in the present reflecting the character and purposes of God?

God doesn’t give us all the answers about the future. God does give us an incredible opportunity to follow His will in this present moment.

This brings us to the final and most important truth: God does know the future. None of us knows, but God does. This is our chief source of comfort and strength. God knows.

You would think that suffering a tragedy would make us deeply pessimistic about the future. Instead, encouraged people tend to live with courage and hope, to choose their attitude toward the future. One must not gamble on the future. To save the life of a single child, no effort is excessive. To make a tired old man smile is to perform an essential task. To defeat injustice and misfortune, if only for one instant, for a single victim, is to invent a new reason to hope.

Realizing that God knows the future gives us a new reason to hope. If we know God’s character, then we trust God’s purposes. In spite of uncertainty, in spite of suffering, in spite of circumstances, we can trust the future to God and give our best to the present moment. Rather than stumbling in speculation or fear, we can focus on doing good works and sharing God’s love right now in our present circumstances. And in this way, we can invent new reasons to hope.

The biblical testimony is that there is a basic pattern to all of life. You and I can’t discern it any more than a fish can analyze the water in which it swims. If we could step out of space and time with God, we could see the pattern, and we could see that all things do work to the good for those who love God, but right now we see through a darkly colored glass. All we know is that God knows and therefore things are all right.

Even if we don’t know the future, we don’t have to live in fear. We can live tenderly, live with ecstasy, live with love. We only have to trust His promise that God knows the future, and our time is safe in His hands.